Entrepreneurs’ relief

Finance Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:25 am on 9th June 2020.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Andrew Rosindell Andrew Rosindell Conservative, Romford

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

That schedule 2 be the Second schedule to the Bill.

New clause 8—Review of changes to entrepreneurs’ relief—

‘(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must review the impact on investment in parts of the United Kingdom and regions of England of the changes made to entrepreneur’s relief by section 22 and Schedule 2 of this Act and lay a report of that review before the House of Commons within six months of the passing of this Act.

(2) A review under this section must consider the effects of the provisions on—

(a) business investment,

(b) employment, and

(c) productivity.

(3) In this section—

“parts of the United Kingdom” means—

(a) England,

(b) Scotland,

(c) Wales, and

(d) Northern Ireland;

and “regions of England” has the same meaning as that used by the Office for National Statistics.’.

This new clause would require a review of the impact on investment of the changes made to entrepreneurs’ relief.

Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

The clause and schedule 22 rename entrepreneurs’ relief as “business asset disposal relief” and reduce the lifetime limit for gains eligible for relief so that from 11 March 2020 the relief can be claimed on gains of up to £1 million. The purpose of renaming the relief is simply to reflect its function and purpose more accurately.

The relief offers a reduced rate of 10% capital gains tax on disposal of eligible business assets. Evidence shows that for some people—indeed, quite a few people—the relief has been a tax planning tool, helping some of the richest people in society to pay less tax rather than discharging its purpose of incentivising entrepreneurship and enterprising business activity. Last year, three quarters of the relief’s cost was for claims made by just 6,000 people disposing of assets with gains of over £1 million. The reform ensures that the Government can more sustainably support small businesspeople with up to £100,000 capital gains tax relief available over their lifetime.

The clause also makes special provisions for disposals entered into before 11 March 2020—that is to say, Budget day—that have not yet been completed. The provisions ensure that such people can still use the previous lifetime limit, but only where the disposal has not been artificially structured for the purpose of securing a tax advantage. It is therefore an anti-forestalling rule, with the rules ensuring that everyone pays their fair share of tax.

The previous lifetime limit of £10 million was an unsustainable degree of support for those less in need of it, and, as I have said, did not discharge the purpose of supporting entrepreneurship as it should have done. The new £1 million lifetime limit is far more sustainable and better targets the people who it was intended should benefit from the relief.

The changes made by clause 22 will raise an estimated £6 billion over the next five years by reducing the lifetime limit from £10 million to £1 million. The rules also mean that the new lifetime limit must include the value of previous claims for relief for qualifying gains. This change will significantly reduce the reliefs cost while affecting just 17% of qualifying taxpayers.

New clause 8, proposed by the SNP, would require the Chancellor of the Exchequer to review the impact of clause 22 and schedule 2 amendments to capital gains tax legislation within six months of passing the Finance Act. Specifically, it would require the Chancellor to review the impact on business investment, employment and productivity in the constituent nations and English regions of the United Kingdom.

I want to highlight that the Government have already conducted an internal review of this relief, building on the 2017 HMRC-commissioned independent research. The review considered the distributional effects and benefits of this relief against its cost, to understand better the targeting of the relief. This reform is strongly influenced and informed by that analysis and ensures that the majority of entrepreneurs are unaffected.

Furthermore, the effects of the changes to the relief will not be visible within six months’ time. As with all tax reliefs, we will continue to review and monitor the effects of this change as standard. I therefore encourage the Committee not to accept the new clause. The Government believe in supporting entrepreneurs and small-business people. Despite calls to abolish the relief, we are introducing sensible reforms designed to ensure that the Government can continue sustainably to encourage the majority of small-business owners. I commend the clause and schedule to the Committee.

Photo of Bridget Phillipson Bridget Phillipson Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury 9:45 am, 9th June 2020

I begin by acknowledging that the action on the relief is welcome, even if we believe it is overdue and could go further. The Minister might be familiar with the Resolution Foundation’s description of the entrepreneurs’ relief as “the worst tax break” that is, “expensive, ineffective, and regressive”. According to HMRC, it cost an estimated £2.1 billion in 2019-20 alone. Before responsibility is laid at the door of the previous Labour Government for introducing the measure, I should argue that many of the undesirable effects have followed changes made post-2010. I thank the House of Commons Library for providing me with a timeline of the changes made to entrepreneurs’ relief since its introduction in 2008, which has allowed me to illustrate that point.

The relief was introduced by the then Chancellor, Alistair Darling, in 2008 with the goal of promoting entrepreneurship in the UK and making us a world leader in the field by encouraging business owners selling up to reinvest the money into new businesses. The 2008 Budget established that the relief would set an effective tax rate of 10% for up to the first £1 million of gains made over a lifetime, which was increased to £2 million from April 2010.

In the coalition Government’s first Budget on 22 June, the then Chancellor, George Osborne, announced that the lifetime limit for entrepreneurs’ relief would be set at £5 million, while the single flat rate of capital gains tax would be replaced with the higher 28% rate paid by higher rate taxpayers. As part of the Government’s second Budget in March 2011, it was announced that the lifetime limit for entrepreneurs’ relief would be increased to £10 million from 6 April 2011.

When the relief was introduced by the Labour Government, the estimated cost was £200 million a year: the generous uprating of the lifetime limit under the coalition Government has undoubtedly contributed to its ballooning cost. Perhaps the cost would be justifiable if it had been shown to have a positive impact in boosting investment in jobs across our country, but there is no evidence to suggest that that has been the case.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has calculated that, in 2017-18, three quarters of the £2.3 billion cost of entrepreneurs’ relief benefited only 5,000 individuals, with an average tax saving among that group of £350,000. The Resolution Foundation highlights HMRC data that shows that 82% of those who benefited have been male and in their late 50s, and that the majority of capital gains tax revenue is concentrated in London and the south-east. The 2017 HMRC evaluation found that only 8% of people claiming entrepreneurs’ relief in the previous five years had said that it influenced their investment decision making. That demonstrates the extent to which the relief was not working as intended, and the necessity of Government action.

Putting aside whether the approach taken by the Government is the right one, there are some technical issues that I hope the Minister can clarify. The Chartered Institute of Taxation has expressed a degree of surprise at the lack of transitional provisions, given that the capital gains tax changes are retroactive, affecting gains that have already accrued but not yet been realised and investment decisions that have already been made. The institute has also expressed concerns about the strength of the anti-forestalling measures for what is a change of policy rather than anti-avoidance legislation, saying it regards one aspect of the measures as open to challenge as retrospective taxation because the Government are changing the tax effect of an action after the right to take that action has arisen. Having sought legal consultation, it fears that may even be a breach of human rights. It has suggested changing the clause to allow a shareholder whose shareholding no longer qualified for entrepreneurs’ relief immediately after an exchange of shares to elect to retain the £10 million limit. Will the Minister tell us what consideration the Treasury has given to the issue?

What consideration have the Government given to going further than the measures contained in this clause? As I have sought to set out to the Committee, entrepreneurs’ relief is costly and is failing to achieve its objective. The Minister is aware, no doubt, that any number of organisations are critical of maintaining it in any form, although the criticism is not unanimous. The Federation of Small Businesses has voiced its concerns and believes that removing entrepreneurs’ relief would disincentivise employee ownership by reducing the value of businesses as they are handed over. Can the Minister say anything by way of reassurance to the Federation of Small Businesses, and does he agree with its assessment?

Many others remain critical and that is where the majority of opinion rests. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has stated that the £1 million relief in the clause is still too generous. The Association of Accounting Technicians says it is disappointing that the Government have failed to scrap it altogether, highlighting an overwhelming body of evidence from focus groups, HMRC-commissioned research, the Office of Tax Simplification, the National Audit Office and others,

“which indicates that the relief does not achieve its policy objectives, that it’s extremely expensive, poorly targeted and ultimately ineffective.”

In the light of that, will the Minister set out for the Committee why the Government have not gone further in this area?

On the new clause, which was tabled by the Scottish National party, we understand the rationale for a review of the measure’s impact on business and on different parts of the UK, but as I have sought to set out to the Committee, there is a strong body of evidence of the entrepreneurs’ relief not working effectively. I would appreciate a better understanding of the impact the amendment seeks to achieve. We do not oppose the new clause; we just think it could go further.

Let me make it clear that a more progressive approach to entrepreneurs’ relief should not be confused with being anti-business. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North set out last week in Committee, Labour Members support measures to promote investment and entrepreneurialism and to support the small businesses that are the backbone of our community and that are doing so much at a difficult time to try and keep people in work, to support our communities and to contribute to our country. The Government need to bring forward measures to ensure that tax reliefs work effectively. The evidence suggests that the entrepreneurs’ relief, as conceived and delivered over the past decade, does not work.

There is a wider issue here that I hope we can revisit in later stages of the debate regarding the Government’s efforts to monitor the effect of tax reliefs such as entrepreneurs’ relief. The National Audit Office’s excellent recent report on tax reliefs shows that the Government are not reporting costs on over two thirds of them and that HMRC did not know whether most tax reliefs offered value for money. I believe the Public Accounts Committee will be taking evidence on this very shortly and publishing its report on the work of the National Audit Office in considering this important issue. We on the Opposition Benches will be following that discussion carefully, because it seems incredible that the Government do not have a proper grip on that area, where there is a real problem around value for money and whether the information provided to Parliament is sufficient, so we can understand whether tax reliefs are having the outcome intended by Government and whether fairness is built into the system.

We will continue to argue for a broad review of tax reliefs and continue to encourage Ministers to adopt the policy to determine exactly who is benefiting from the hundreds of tax reliefs that exist, whether they are fair, whether they represent good value for money, whether we can be confident that they are securing the policy outcomes as originally intended, and that the Government should legislate to make the system fairer as a whole.

Photo of Stephen Flynn Stephen Flynn Shadow SNP Deputy Spokesperson (Treasury - Financial Secretary)

This is my first experience of a Finance Bill Committee—indeed, I think it is the first time we have met, Mr Rosindell, and I look forward to serving under your chairmanship. Dare I say that our new clause is constructive? That is the manner I am starting in. I would like the Government to change their stance a bit and look at the wider picture.

Before the Budget, it was well known to all of us in the public sphere that the Government were considering entirely scrapping entrepreneurs’ relief. We read a number of comments in the press and the public domain about Conservative Back Benchers being unhappy with that move because they felt it would stifle investment. Ultimately, the Chancellor did not scrap entrepreneurs’ relief but simply took it back to the level it was at when the Labour party introduced it in 2008, reducing it from £10 million to £1 million. We need to know what the Government’s long-term direction of travel is. We cannot be driven by a rebellion on the Government Back Benches. If the Government do not feel that entrepreneurs’ relief is beneficial, they should make that clear.

The Minister said that the Government have conducted a review, and indeed they have, but it was an internal review; as far as I am aware, it is not in the public domain. They are more than welcome to put it into the public domain, or they could agree to our new clause. The hon. Member for Houghton and Sunderland South talked about what we are could achieve. It is important that we have that review so that we all know where entrepreneurs’ relief is going to be in the coming years.

As I say, this is a constructive suggestion. It is based not just on our interpretation of the situation, but on the evidence. The IFS believes that entrepreneurs’ relief is poorly targeted; the FSB, on the other hand, is broadly supportive; and the Chartered Institute of Taxation believes that a public consultation on objectives and efficacy is necessary. There is a broad range of views about this policy, so the time has come for the Government to undertake a review in the public domain so that we all understand the direction of travel and know where they seek to go. Hopefully, that will inform us all a bit more about the position. As I say, this is a constructive suggestion, and I hope the Government will change their stance.

Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

I thank the hon. Members for Houghton and Sunderland South and for Aberdeen South very much for their comments. They raise a number of important points.

It is certainly true that this relief has attracted widespread criticism from different interested and expert bodies; the hon. Lady is absolutely right to point that out. It is important to note that the Government have tried to strike a balance. An outright abolition might have had the effect of penalising a lot of entrepreneurial activity, undertaken in good faith up to the level that has been determined. That would have been, in the Government’s view, an overreaction to the situation. Therefore, we have tried to strike a balance by trying to keep the vast majority of entrepreneurial activity that is protected in place while cutting back on aspects that are ineffective or regressive.

It is interesting, as has been noted by Opposition Members, that alongside widespread concern there has also been notable recognition of the importance of that aspect of the relief that I have highlighted from the Federation of Small Businesses. I note that the national chairman described this as a

“sensible compromise on Entrepreneurs’ Relief”,

in which

“everyday entrepreneurs will be pleased to hear the Chancellor say that he has listened to FSB”.

Expert comment has also highlighted the extent to which the previous relief was being exploited by advisers, who were using the tax break to encourage activity that had nothing to do with the creation of entrepreneurial benefit. We fully recognise that. In striking that balance, we are trying to ensure that the relief plays its part alongside a wide range of other Government measures to support entrepreneurs and new businesses. Those include start-up loans, support for businesses conducting R&D and the new structures and buildings allowance that we will discuss in due course.

To pick up a point that the hon. Lady mentioned, this has been an expensive relief with, in the Treasury’s view, inadequate public gain, but when we get to R&D tax credits, which are also expensive reliefs, there the judgment has been that although they are expensive, there is considerable public gain. I will come to that in due course, but there is a contrast to be noted there.

The question is also raised whether we should have acted more decisively. I have highlighted that that would have had the effect of penalising many entrepreneurs who entered into these arrangements in good faith and would have had all their gains cancelled out. At the same time, it was necessary to put in anti-forestalling measures, because as soon as the fact of a change becomes clear, there is enormous potential scope for abuse and avoidance. The hon. Member for Aberdeen South was absolutely right to raise the extent to which this was known to be a bad relief in advance and some people might have taken advantage of that. That provided an additional reason not to include transitional measures, but to act decisively when we did act.

I am sympathetic to the point that the hon. Member for Houghton and Sunderland South makes about a more structured approach to the analysis of tax reliefs. That point is well made. My answer to her comments about the IFS’s concerns about the residual relief is that there is always scope for further reform at future fiscal events.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 22 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 2 agreed to.